Saturday, October 20, 2007

Rabeinu Yonah on Pirkei Avos

TorahLab has just published the first ever translation of Rabeinu Yonah’s classic commentary on Avos. The TorahLab team, headed by Rabbi David Sedley, has done a remarkable job at adding a significant contribution to Jewish literature and understanding.

A little about the book and its history.

“There were many great Torah authors and many styles of mussar. Not every author can speak to every soul; there are after all so many different types of souls. The exception to this is Rabbeinu Yonah Girondi (and specifically his book on teshuvah). His writings are appropriate to every Jew in every time.” (Rabbi Chaim of Velozhin as quoted by the Chofetz Chaim])

Rabbeinu Yonah came from Girona, in Catalonia. He lived in the thirteenth century, was a grandson and student of the Ramban and the teacher of the Rashba. He is mentioned several times in the commentary of the Tosafos on the Talmud, referred to there as Rabbi Yonah.

He was also considered the most prominent pupil of Rabbi Shlomoh Min HaHor who was the leader of the opponents of Rambam’s philosophical works. As such, he was one of the signers of the infamous ban proclaimed against the Moreh Nevuchim and the Sefer HaMadda in 1233. According to his pupil, Hillel of Verona, Rabbeinu Yonah felt that these editions were philosophically dangerous to the masses and was the instigator of the public burning of Maimonides' writings by the church in 1233.

Nine years later, in 1242, twenty-four wagon-loads of the Talmud were burned by the church at the very same place where the philosophical writings of Rambam had been destroyed. Rabbeinu Yonah, realized that he made a mistake and publicly admitted in the synagogue of Montpellier that he had been wrong in all his acts against the works and fame of Maimonides.

In his repentance he vowed to travel to Eretz Yisroel and prostrate himself on the grave of the Rambam and implore his pardon in the presence of ten men for seven consecutive days. He left France with that intention, but was detained, first in Barcelona and later in Toledo. He remained in Toledo, and became one of the great Talmudical teachers of his time.

In all his lectures and in his writings he made a point of quoting from Rambam; always mentioning his name with great reverence. Rabbeinu Yonah’s sudden death from a rare disease was considered by many as a consequence of failure to fulfil his vow to journey to the grave of Rambam. He died in Toledo, Spain in November of 1263.

Rabbeinu Yonah wrote a number of works; it is surmised, to atone for his earlier attacks on Rambam and to emphasize his repentance. His Iggeres HaTeshuvah, Shaarei Teshuvah, and Sefer HaYirah are among the most popular ethical treatises in the Judaic library. The Shaarie Teshuvah first appeared in Fano (1505) with the Sefer HaYirah, while the Iggeres HaTeshuvah was first published in Cracow (1586). All have been reprinted many times, separately and together, as well as numerous extracts from them. Rabbeinu Yonah actually wrote many more treatises which were compiled together and published as Shaarei Tzedek; unfortunately most of these writings have been

Rabbi Akiva Eiger commented that he was particularly moved by the mussar works of Rabbeinu Yonah because aside from being a great ethicist, Rabbeinu Yonah was one of the greatest Talmudic scholars of all time as well as a authority on Jewish law. Rabbi Akiva Eiger viewed Rabbeinu Yonah’s mussar comments as legally binding.

Rabbeinu Yonah on Pirkei Avos, presents this exact blend of his abilities. In contrast to the hundreds of commentaries on Pirkei Avos that use the text of Avos as a springboard for homiletic and ethical preaching, Rabbeinu Yonah explains the simple meaning of each Mishnah. This creates a new possibility for inspiration, where one is struck by the beauty and awesome timelessness of the words of the Sages.

We have a very limited number of copies of Rabbeinu Yonah on Pirkei Avos for sale. I strongly recommend you order yours from Torahlab today.

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